Aden didn’t ask what they’d discussed. He just changed the subject, saying, “Elijah says I’m now like you. My personality, I mean.”

“Of course Elijah is blaming me for the change. He doesn’t like me. None of them do,” she said, then his words sank in, and she gasped. “Wait, what?” Her step faltered, tripping her, dislodging Aden’s hold. When she straightened, she glared at his still moving form. Never mind that she’d had the same thought yesterday. She’d been more inclined to blame her father. “Aden!”

He turned back to face her, frowned at the distance between them and approached. Again she absorbed his heat. Now that her cells were fully awake, they practically quivered in rapture, being this close to him.

How she would have loved it if he’d deigned to return her glare, but no. His expression remained blank. “He says you left pieces of your character inside me. Like when I gave you the souls, and you gave me Chompers.” His head tilted to the side, his gaze moving past her, past the forest, as if he were listening to someone else. He probably was. Then he nodded and said, “And when we drank from each other.”

She ran her tongue over her teeth. Her sharp, useless teeth. “You’re saying this uncaring, very nearly unlikable act is because of me?” You thought the same thing, she reminded herself. How can you be mad at him?

She didn’t know, but she was. Very mad.

“Yes. That’s what I’m saying.” Offered with no hesitation.

That was how people saw her? Cold, distant? Oh, she’d known they considered her too serious, but this… Ugh, ugh, ugh. “Why aren’t I acting like you, then?”

“I don’t know. You tell me.”

Her chin lifted. “You mean I’m acting confused, tuning in and out of our conversations, distracted all the time, and throwing jealous fits?” Wait. She was. Her eyes widened as realization struck. She really was.

“Was that how you saw me?” he asked, parroting her thoughts. He took a menacing step toward her, then another.

She backed away slowly, trying not to be obvious in her cowardice—and her desire. Her quivering became outright shaking, her need to be touched by him overshadowing everything else, making her ache.

He didn’t stop coming, and she didn’t stop retreating until her back pressed into a thick tree trunk. She might crave him, but she didn’t know this Aden, didn’t know how he’d react to the things she did and said.

Although, if Elijah was correct, she could guess. If Aden was acting like her, he would try and resist her, but he would fail. Just as she’d always failed to resist him. He would try and dislike her, try to detach himself from her, but again, he would fail.

When she’d first met him, she had been following orders from her father. Find him, interrogate him, and kill him. She’d found him all right. She’d interrogated him—kind of. While her father had expected screams of pain to spring from the question-and-answer session, she’d ended up swimming with Aden, playing with him. Kissing him.

She’d told herself she didn’t—couldn’t—like him. He was food, nothing more. She’d told herself to remain disconnected from the situation, to do what needed to be done. Aden had summoned her kind to Oklahoma, he hummed with a kind of power none of them understood but were drawn to, a power the beasts inside them yearned for and basically worshipped, and he could do serious damage to their race. Killing him would have been a mercy to her people.

Killing him, though, had never been an option for Victoria. She had been intrigued by him, had identified with him. He was an outsider to his own kind; he was misunderstood, unwanted. She wasn’t an outsider, but as a princess she was set apart. And it hadn’t helped that she’d always been a disappointment to her father. She wasn’t a warrior like her sister Lauren, and she wasn’t a volatile force of nature like Stephanie.

Aden flattened his hands at her temples, his lower body brushing against hers and pulling a delighted gasp right out of her. He’d caged her in, surrounded her, becoming all that she saw. All she wanted to see. “You are tuning in and out of our conversations,” he said. There was no heat to his tone, but maybe…maybe there were threads of amusement?

“That doesn’t prove anything,” she said, just to provoke him. What would he do? How far would he take this?

His nose brushed against hers, his breath fanning over her cheeks, warm and minty. “How would you like to test it?”

Was he going to kiss her? Her heart sped into hyperdrive, her veins expanding to accommodate the increase of blood flow. She ran her tongue over her lips, her gaze melting into his. “I—I don’t know.”

“I do,” he said darkly, huskily. “First, do I have all your attention?”

“Good. That’s step one. Now for step two.”

Without any more explanation, he settled his mouth over hers, soft, exploring. Her breath hitched as she tasted him. Then, he pressed harder, opened up, and licked at her. She opened up, too, welcoming him inside, and their tongues rolled together. Her hands slid up his chest, around his neck and tangled in his hair.

“I like step two,” she rasped, so happy this was happening, she could have burst. “But it doesn’t prove anything.”

She chuckled, loving this teasing side of him. A side she’d missed terribly.

They stayed like that, kissing and touching, for countless minutes, hours maybe, and finally, blessedly, her body began to warm. As delighted as she was about that, she wished Aden would pet her as he’d used to do. She wanted his hands on her, all over her.

Soon she got her wish. Not skin-to-skin contact, but his hands began to roam, exploring her, molding her, shaping, driving her to kiss him harder, until little moans were escaping the back of her throat, until she was panting, biting at him.

To his credit, he didn’t bite her back. His touch did strengthen, though, becoming rougher. And she liked it.

“Aden,” she said, not sure why she was saying his name.

A moment later, she felt as if she were falling…falling…brittle leaves and cold dirt suddenly supporting her, Aden’s weight pinning her down. The kiss never slowed. They clutched at each other, rubbed at each other. Her body was sensitized, racing toward…something with every move she made.

He did finally pull away to cup her jaw. He, too, was panting. Little beads of sweat popped up on his brow.

“Have you been with anybody?” he asked. There was a gruff quality to his voice. A quality she loved.

He nodded, his gaze straying to her neck. A second later, he was kissing her there, licking, sucking but still not biting. And, oh, the sensations he evoked. She was being devoured by them, every inch of her ablaze.

Rather than answer, she said shakily, “Have you?”

But…but…he was so beautiful. Even if human girls considered him crazy, they should have been all over him. Actually, they should have been all over him because they considered him crazy. Weren’t bad boys attractive to one and all? Someone to be tamed or something?

Her betrothed, Dmitri, had been a bad boy among the vampires, and the females had flocked to him.

“Why not?” Her hands began an exploration of their own, sliding down the strength of his chest, tugging at the softness of his shirt, then slipping under it. Finally. Hot-as-a-furnace skin.

Did he trust her enough? Or at all? She hoped so, because she would never betray him. Ever.

“What about you?” he asked, planting kisses along her jaw.

Her nails curled into him. She didn’t want to answer. Not after hearing his reply. “Well…”

He lifted his head, and she moaned in frustration. His eyes glowed a brilliant amber-brown now, tiny flecks of violet and green swirling in the background. Such gorgeous, mesmerizing eyes.

His hold tightened on her. “With who?”

Would he think badly of her now? She didn’t want to tell him, so she said, “I was curious. I was betrothed to Dmitri, as you know, and as you also know, I hated him and, well—”

“Dmitri? You slept with Dmitri? Whom you hated?” There was a faint trace of outrage in his tone.

Even that minute amount angered her, cooling the hottest of the flames licking over her. “No. Not Dmitri. But what if it was him? What would you do? What would you say?”

A few more flames crackled and hissed their way to extinction. “Anyway. I didn’t want him to be my first because, as you said, I hated him.” She’d debated keeping herself pure for him, even though that wasn’t a vampire tradition or requirement. She’d debated simply because Dmitri had been a jealous, possessive sort, and he would have hurt whoever she’d picked.

Finally, a few months before traveling to Oklahoma, she’d decided to go for it, just get it over with and pick someone who could hold his own against her fiancé. A mistake that she regretted, but one she couldn’t change.

“And for your information,” she went on, “we don’t have as staunch a view about sex as you humans do. My father had about a thousand wives, you know.”

Frost glazed his eyes. “So who were you with?”

Like she’d go there with him. “It doesn’t matter.”

“He’s still alive and here, then. And that means I can—” Suddenly silent, Aden stiffened against her, his gaze jolting up and narrowing. “Someone’s coming.” He sniffed. “Female. Familiar.”